It’s probably safe to say that by the end of its whopping seven minutes of opening narration you’ll be prepared to tell if you’re game for where Upside Down wants to take you. In heavy, overreaching breaths the protagonist coos about pink bees, forbidden love, flying pancakes, and “the three basic laws of double gravity” in a stunningly over-explanation of the film’s ludicrous premise. It’s as if Romeo & Juliet were retold through the half-mad kaleidoscope of Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales. The line “Once love was stronger than gravity” best sums up the tone, distinctly warning the audience that this is a fairy tale and a love story, not a crowd-pleaser for discerning sci-fi types.
As is common with fairy tales (and sci-fi for that matter), the film sets up a very simple haves-vs-have-nots dichotomy. Two worlds are connected by opposing gravitational pulls, so that inhabitants of one are always looking upside down at the inhabitants of the other. The world on top is rich. The world on bottom is poor. It’s about as simple of an allegory as you’ll get outside the front & back of the train in Snowpiercer. The fun is in the film’s more fantastic elements, like the aforementioned pink bees that pollinate flowers from both worlds and improbably make an interplanetary romance possible. Besides a few grim details in the wealth disparity and interplanetary oil trade, Upside Down is mostly light fare. If you have the ability (or desire) to turn off your brain and enjoy a sappy against-all-odds love story that involves distant planets and magical pink nectar, it’s a truly fun film.
Even though the movie requires a complete absence of cynicism, it does boast visually thoughtful rewards as well. The spaces where the two worlds meet (particularly in offices & ballrooms that stretch on like two mirrors facing each other) are just straight up nifty. There’s an effortless cool to watching Kirsten Dunst sip a martini out of an upside down glass or watching her love interest hop around on floating platforms like a video game character. After the film’s opening Richard Kelly-style rant, it slows way down to tell a simple love story that will sound awfully familiar to most, but it’s a cliché that’s substantially boosted by its outlandish setting. The romantic fairy tale Upside Down tells is trite, but it’s also timelessly cute and backed up by a puzzling visual landscape that’s deliciously stubborn to even the most basic logic.
Upside Down is currently streaming on Netflix.